Please act urgently to stop removal of Lydia Besong

Bestselling authors and leading human rights dignitaries have urged the government to stop the removal of Cameroonian playwright Lydia Besong along with her husband Bernard Batey.

Lydia Besong and Juliet Stevenson at Women for Refugee Women’s production of

More than 30 leading writers and actors, including Monica Ali, Alan Ayckbourn, Joan Bakewell, Nick Hornby, Helena Kennedy, Caitlin Moran, Michael Morpurgo and Juliet Stevenson have signed a letter to Home Secretary Theresa May expressing support for Lydia.

Lydia sought asylum in the UK in 2006. She is currently in detention in the UK awaiting forced removal.

Lydia was persecuted in Cameroon as a result of her peaceful political activities on behalf of the English-speaking minority in the country, and was imprisoned and raped in prison.

She fled here with her husband Bernard and sought asylum. Since arriving in the UK she has written three plays, one of which, “How I Became an Asylum Seeker”, was performed in London in 2010 at an event produced by
Women for Refugee Women and hosted by Juliet Stevenson.

Another is currently in rehearsal with a performance scheduled for March.

Lydia and Bernard were taken into detention on 10th January 2012 even though they were still awaiting a decision from the Home Office on a protection claim filed in October last year.

Prior to being detained, neither the couple nor their legal representatives had been told that this claim had been refused. Lydia is currently being held in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre and Bernard is being held in Morton
Hall Immigration Removal Centre.

They have been given removal orders for this Saturday, 21st January, despite very real fears that they will face further persecution if returned.

Speaking from Yarl’s Wood, Lydia said: “Of course it would put me in danger if I was returned to Cameroon. There is no hiding that my work is critical of the current government. I would be detained indefinitely. There is no freedom of expression in Cameroon, this is happening every day.”

But she would not stop writing, she added. “I wanted to highlight what was happening at home,” she said. “If it couldn’t be beneficial to me maybe it could be beneficial to others. I didn’t know I would find myself in this situation. I am very, very, scared.”

The letter, which has been organised by English PEN and Women for Refugee Women, and signed by a number of leading writers, states:  “The UK should be proud to offer Lydia protection from the persecution she suffered in her home country.”

Natasha Walter, Director of Women for Refugee Women and author of “The New Feminism” and “Living Dolls”, said: “Lydia’s courage and creativity is a real inspiration for those standing up to oppression. It is shocking to see how she has struggled to get a fair hearing in the UK asylum process.”

Gillian Slovo, novelist and president of English PEN urged the government on behalf of English PEN, “to stop Lydia’s deportation as well as the deportation of her husband to a country that continues to use force to silence its critics.”

Juliet Stevenson, actress, said: “Lydia Besong is an incredibly courageous woman who has put her head above the parapet to talk about her experience and write her plays. This country should not send her back to a situation where she could be in very real danger.”

Michael Morpurgo, author of “War Horse” and ex-Children’s Laureate, said:  “How this country treats asylum seekers is the measure of what kind of people we are. Lydia was oppressed in Cameroon. That there is risk she will be imprisoned and abused again seems undeniable. That she is extraordinarily brave in her stand against oppression is clear. And that her talents would be of great value to us as a citizen in our society would seem to be obvious.  On these grounds, I would ask, beg, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, to look again, think again, and allow this remarkable woman the right to stay
here and live amongst us.”

If you would like to speak up for Lydia, please let Air France know that you believe she should not be transported on Air France flight AF1481. You can contact Air France by Facebook, by twitter on @AirFranceUK, on 08455 191523, or mail.internet.afc@airfrance.fr

You can email messages of support for Lydia to admin@refugeewomen.co.uk, or go here to find out more information and how to email Theresa May in support of Lydia.